The Cazenovia Creek flood prevention project was originally described as looking like concrete fingers anchored to the bed of the creek.
It's more like thumbs. Large, dark-gray thumbs.

The $4 million project designed by the Army Corps of Engineers is nearly complete. When it is finished, West Seneca officials believe that it will stop the flooding caused by ice jams that has plagued the town for decades in neighborhoods near Southgate Plaza and downstream into South Buffalo.

"After the last round of problems, there was no way we were not going to do something," Town Supervisor Paul T. Clark said Wednesday, referring to flooding.

"It took a lot of research. The Corps came up with this, with a more reasonable cost, a good design."

The design is unusual enough that it was featured in an article in the February issue of Popular Mechanics. It's one of perhaps two such structures in the United States.

Instead of building a flood-control dam, the Corps came up with a design in which the pillars should catch large chunks of ice until they melt enough to slip through and safely float downstream.

Construction started in the summer, although it was delayed when heavy fall rains repeatedly washed out the access road.

The pillars, in a stretch near where the east end of Main Street meets Seneca Street, will combine with trees and vegetation in the adjoining flood plain to back up the ice and water in a bowl-shaped uninhabited area.

The project is largely done. Contractors have been placing rip-rap along the bank and stabilizing it. Wrap-up landscaping will take place in the spring.

"It's functioning, but we haven't had a true test yet," said Mike Kerl, West Seneca's disaster coordinator. "Mother Nature's been cooperating pretty well."

Kerl said the pillars will hold up sheet ice, while letting the "frazzle ice" - the ice that's the consistency of a Slurpee - go through.

The last significant flooding in West Seneca was in 2003, when the Parkdale and Willowdale Drive areas were swamped.

Clark said the plan has been in the works since 1998, going forward with the Corps paying 75 percent of the cost, New York State 12.5 percent and West Seneca 12.5 percent.

At one point, the state decided it would not use eminent domain to gain flood easements on properties near the creek, so the town did.

"We really weren't crazy about using eminent domain on our own residents," said Clark, "but it wasn't like we were using it for some developer. Most understood it was for public safety."

Clark said the project could also eventually reduce flood insurance costs to homeowners in West Seneca and perhaps even more so in South Buffalo, because the size of Cazenovia Creek's flood plain should be reduced.